I’m midway through a seminar at work on Getting Things Done. We’ve spent two half-days learning the principles and doing hands-on exercises.
Have you ever gone back to something that you thought you knew very well and looked at it through fresh eyes?
I read GTD years ago, was very impressed with it, try to teach the concepts to my students and clients, and generally would have thought I was on board with it as a lifestyle.
Lately, however, large segments of my life are in turmoil. It feels like standing shoulder-deep in the ocean, attempting to watch the beach while tides and winds and storms roll up behind my back.
As we’ve gone through the exercises in the class, I’ve realized how many loose ends have started to escape from my fingers.
...oops, that one was my oar leash...
A major focus of this type of workshop is putting together a list. Or several lists. Everyone in the class does the exercises and chats about how it’s going, asking each other questions and trading ideas. Like, ‘what category does this fall in?’
Usually something that seems confusing and overwhelming to one person, like how to categorize ‘buy a new fridge,’ seems simple and obvious to someone else. A lot of these things are common or universal issues, and someone else will have direct experience.
It was cheering to realize that others are caught up in issues that I don’t have in my life. You might feel the same. I don’t have to plan a child’s birthday party or get my oil changed, and maybe you don’t have to figure out whether to do your breathing therapy in the morning or at bedtime.
At the same time, I was blindsided by how scattered I’ve become.
I was capturing tasks on at least 8 different systems. That’s like having eight brains. No, wait, actually that would probably have interesting network effects. Try again. It’s probably more like being a waiter and trying to memorize the orders for eight tables at once. Maybe it can be done, but poorly, and eventually someone is going to wind up with a milkshake with a side of ketchup.
That’s me, diner waitress. On roller skates.
I used to fantasize about that in my early twenties. That I would run away and change my name to Ruby and work as a diner waitress somewhere in Nevada. But then I realized that this was a 1930s fantasy and that I probably made more money as an office assistant.
Escape is what we think we want when we’re very busy. We think it’s a way to finally be let off the hook and be able to abandon or abdicate some of our responsibilities.
The truth seems to be that escaping makes everything more complicated. Like faking your own death somewhere in the woods and then having to reestablish a new identity with new ID, bank cards, and a source of income.
Wouldn’t it be easier to write that into a novel or screenplay, sell it, and then remake yourself as a rich and famous writer?
It’s actually easier to do a brain dump and start methodically busting through the items.
The only thing about that plan is the challenge of blocking off time and making yourself do it. Hence the workshop.
Our class has all these exercise breaks with a timer. Three minutes here, six or seven minutes there. Everyone quietly works away.
During this time, it is astonishing how many quick tasks many of us have completed. That’s one of the games, to write a list of things you can do in two minutes or less and then compete to see who can finish the most.
What I discovered from working through this exercise is that almost everything on my backlog is a fairly large-scale project. They always say, “break that down into chunks and find one that you can do in two minutes.” That doesn’t, however, clear off any of the larger chunks. The list starts to become more concentrated.
One of mine is to compare four grad schools. The two-minute part of that exercise would be to gather all their websites and see if there is some independent rating organization that compares schools. What remains isn’t something I can do with divided attention, multi-tasking or skimming through a long list of petty busywork.
This is the big thing that most of us are missing: a large block of time that is free of distractions, when we can do deep focus and feel that yes, we have truly finished something and shut the door on it.
The other area where I tend to have a buildup is in social contacts. I fully realize that in our culture, many people fill every spare minute with this - phone calls, text messages, group chats, the occasional email or quick personal note.
I do not understand for the life of me how this is done!
Sometimes I’ll get to the end of the day and have 17 texts and something like 45 minutes of video clips that people have sent me. I thoroughly, endlessly can’t even.
I wish I felt excited and pleased when several people reach out and want to chat with me on the same day. Instead I often feel wounded and harassed. Why?? What do you people even want from me??
This is what comes of spending the day in a service role, switched ON for spontaneous requests from any of 150 people. This is also why my vision of myself as Ruby the Diner Waitress would have drained the marrow out of me.
The simple solution for my problem is the same as it is for others who don’t know how or when they can clean out their garage, exercise, read a book, or go to the dentist for the first time in eight years. Schedule a regular time for it and move other commitments around so you know you can get it done.
Time is the only thing we all have in common. We all get 24 hours in a day, queens and commoners, diner waitresses and dentists. That is all that we get, and it has to be enough, because the only other choices are on other planets.
The only other thing we all have in common is the ability to make choices, change our attitudes, and exert free will. These things are a little more variable. It’s possible that some people are so grumpy that it has carved physical channels into their brains. Or stress lines into their (our) foreheads.
As I come away from this workshop, my question to myself has to be, how long will it be until I need to do this again? Can I change or will I quickly default to my ordinary patterns?
How about you?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies